Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The World Has a Problem: The Cascading Failure of Soil!

In Response to: Fruits and Veggies are Not as Vitamin-Rich as in the Past, Says New Data  
Larger Fruits and Vegetables Mean More Plentiful but Less Potent Bounty
March 1, 2006 ABC News Internet Ventures
Story by Megan Carpenter

Staff of Soil Secrets Responds to this story:  The population of the earth is growing by approximated 86 million people per year, according to a recent National Geographic Special Issue; this is a net gain after accounting for population mortality.  This means that on average 235,000 babies are born each day, which is 235,000 new mouths to feed every day.  The USDA and food protection studies performed by Sandia National Laboratories have determined that according to our Ecological Footprint - 6 acres of land is required per person for annual food production, based on the standards of the United States.  If the goal is to modernize the developing world to the same standard of living as the developed world, then the same Ecological Footprint would be needed for every person on the planet.  Therefore, the 235,000 human beings added to this earth each and every day would require 511 million acres or 800,000 square miles (6 ½ New Mexico’s) of new agricultural land every year.  This is an impossible quest and in fact the world is not gaining farm land but instead is losing agricultural land at an alarming rate!

I see this as one of humanity’s greatest obstacles! 

Megan Carpenter addressed another concern, nutrient density, in her article Larger Fruits and Vegetables Mean More Plentiful but Less Potent Bounty.   In this article, a biochemist with the University of Texas at Austin, Donald David, suggests that the fruits and vegetables currently sold in the United States show substantial deficiencies in 6 of 13 major nutrients.  In collaboration with the USDA, Dr. Davis calculated a 38% loss in protein, calcium, vitamin C, phosphorus, iron and riboflavin when he compared fruits and veggies grown today to those same crops produced in past decades.

What might cause this significant decrease in nutrient density?  Dr. Davis insightfully concludes that as crops grow faster and yields increase - nutrient density declines.   He suggests that the dilution of vital vitamins and minerals has occurred as direct a result of farmers being paid for the quantity of crop produced and not the quality. 

I found this article to be of upmost importance as we enter a time period when population growth, as mentioned above, is measured in exponential terms.  However, this article does not address the single greatest influence on nutrient density – the biological health of the soil in which the crop was produced and the availability of water stored in the soil!

Agricultural soils across the globe have been compromised due to conventional agricultural practices and therefore are not functioning at optimum capacity, have poor soil structure, and are not retaining water for crop use.  As a result, soils in these managed and constructed landscapes provide relatively low levels of nutrition to vegetation, when compared to undisturbed soil systems. Healthy, or undisturbed, soil systems contain significantly higher levels of Mycorrhizal fungi and Humic substances; both of which greatly increase a plant’s ability to uptake nutrients.  Modern conventional agricultural use of fertilizers and soil tillage damage both the Mycorrhizal plant relationship while causing a decline in the concentration of Humic substances in the soil!

Mycorrhizea are a beneficial mutualistic fungus. They associate with over 95% of the plants in the wild and help improve the uptake of mineral nutrients and water for the benefit of the host plant.  Science has demonstrated that crops that are not Mycorrhizal are in need of extra fertilizer and extra water assistance!   Both significant issues when you consider that most of the agricultural land on earth is found in arid regions requiring supplemental irrigation.    The mycelium hyphae (nutrient transport tubes) of Mycorrhizae lives about 6 days and it’s this organic biomass that contributes to the chemical production of Humus, the Humic substances of soil.
Humic substances are complex carbon Supramolecular Substances, which are prevalent in healthy top soils with the Humic Acid fraction a powerful biologic chemical that’s perhaps the most important part of a healthy soil.   Humic acids (HAs) are remarkable brown to black products of soil chemistry that are essential for healthy and productive soil” Journal of Chemistry, Dec 2001, Vol. 78, No. 12.  Humic acids and the whole Humic substance material is the recalcitrant (resisting decay) carbon of soil that is of critical importance in holding the soils structure together in ‘Macroaggregates’, reducing the compaction of soil while also improving the soils ability to retain water and mineral nutrients for vegetation uptake. On a bio-geo-chemical level, Humic acids are involved in hundreds of chemical equations, including but not limited to making the soil a healthier place for soil microbes, roots, and other members of the Soil Food Web community of the terrestrial biosphere.  Humic acids are also involved in the process of making the minerals of the soil available for plant use, by solubilizing them from the complex chemical compounds that plants cannot solubilize on their own.  As previously stated, Humic acids play a role in helping to retain water in the soil, therefore they also help in holding the plant nutrients in a water solution so that plants can absorb the minerals. 

Many agricultural professionals whom currently follow modern conventional practices are now showing a strong interest in using Mycorrhizal fungi inoculants and Humic acids to reduce inputs, and increase crop nutrient density. Growers operating Organic Certified farms are also starting to take notice of this science as they realize that adding manure and compost is not the solution to the real problem.  While animal manures and compost can provide a fertilizer value, the organic matter of those inputs are rapid cycling and referred to as the ‘labile’ (temporary or fast changing) pool of soil organic matter, while Humic substances (also called Humus) is the ‘recalcitrant’ pool of the soil that plays a vital and essential role in the biological management of soil.  Manures and compost are a poor source of Humic Acids! 

Humianity must overcome this obsticale and act aggresively to protect our most precious natural resource - SOIL!